Bringing back the past: Alfred Stieglitz circa 1925

You can’t miss what you never had or never experienced, but history makes that redundant. We record things, and thus we “remember”. We are able to feel something about a period of time that is so far estranged from us that it is almost impossible to conceive such a thing existed.
In documenting what went before us, we tease future generations about all the great times that have passed, be it personal or historic. Wouldn’t it have been grand to have seen Frank, Sammy and Dean live at the Sands in the 60s? We can watch clips, but it’s not the same.
From this month, the Bruce Silverstein Gallery is attempting to realise the impossible with Seven Americans, a facsimile of Alfred Stieglitz’s remarkable 1924 show of the same name. We’ve all heard about it and now, in a modern take kind of a way, today’s art lovers can experience a piece of history .
The original exhibition, which was held at the Anderson Galleries, was in itself a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Stieglitz’s opening of his groundbreaking 291 Gallery.
For the exhibition, Stieglitz, who was influential in making photography an art in itself beyond mere documentation of life in the early half of the twentieth century, assembled a cast of some of America’s most influential artists of the day.
This included Georgia O’Keefe, to whom he was married, Charles Demuth, John Marin, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Paul Strand. Along with his own work – thereby making up the seven – Stieglitz was making a statement: here was an inimitably American vision of modern art.
The gallery explains further: “This contemporary rendition of the original exhibition focuses exclusively on works that explore abstraction via nature, as this subject was a primary concern of all seven artists.
“Stieglitz saw abstraction as the ‘true medium’. In his own work and in his promotion of other artists, he sought to prioritise visual and metaphorical abstraction – artworks which communicate the artist’s inner vision and lived experience though a universal, intuitive and spiritually expressive language.”
It’s rare for institutions to be so brave as to invoke the past, especially when it concerns masters. These seminal moments were significant, so much so that history remembers, and will do forevermore.
But because most of us, in the context of this exhibition, were not there at the time, we can only experience it vicariously, through the words and images of others. Here we get a sense of physicality and that is something to behold.
Seven Americans at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery runs until October 20th 2012.
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